Charred sweet corn is the star of the versatile summer salad
How do you cook corn on the cob?
There seem to be as many methods as cooks. Do you steam, boil, microwave? Do you grill, and if so, in the husks or out? (Or do you get fancy and pull back the husks, put butter or an ice cube inside, rewrap and proceed?)
Maybe you prefer your corn raw, especially when it's as fresh as possible.
I like to shake things up, and I have cooked (or not cooked) corn in all the above ways, and more. But my go-to method involves microwaving the corn in the (soaked) husk, which steams it lightly and makes the husk and silks easy to slip off. A close second is to take off those husks and cook the corn in a blazing-hot, dry skillet, rolling it every few minutes. Some of the kernels brown and char, while the rest turn a bright yellow, and you get touches of nuttiness and even a hint of smoke. You can butter them up and serve them just like that, or cut off the kernels and use them, really, anywhere you'd like.
Those kernels are right at home on grain bowls, in tacos and pasta dishes, but their highest and best use might just be in a salad.
Every year, I audition multiple possibilities for the position of my corn salad recipe of the summer. A couple of years ago, it was a Maggie Battista number that employed the smart use of crushed tortilla chips for texture. Last year, it was Gaby Dalkin's colorful combination of raw corn, watermelon radishes and sugar snap peas.
This time, the winner is from Molly Baz's "Cook This Book," and it depends on a base of grains and quick-pickled onions in a piquant dressing. Other elements: queso fresco, chopped almonds, a generous amount of mint — and those skillet-charred corn kernels. The salad boasts several of my favorite summer qualities: It can be eaten at room temperature or cold, right after you make it or after a few days in the fridge. It's quick, and it's adaptable.
Perhaps best of all, it offers yet another way to savor that sweet, golden star of the season.
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Farro and Charred Corn Salad
This summery salad pairs skillet-charred fresh corn with farro and quick-pickled onions. Feel free to use another grain instead of farro; brown rice and barley would be easy substitutes. To make the most of your time, get the farro cooking before you start prepping the other ingredients.
Make ahead: The farro and corn can be cooked (separately) and refrigerated for up to 1 week before you combine them with the dressing and other ingredients.
Storage: The salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
1-1/4 cups (8 ounces) farro (may substitute barley, wheat berries, brown rice or your favorite whole grain)
1/3 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more to taste
1/2 small (4 ounces) red onion, thinly sliced
4 large ears fresh corn, shucked
4 ounces queso fresco or feta, drained and crumbled
1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) roasted almonds, chopped
1 cup (1/2 ounce) lightly packed fresh mint or basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farro and boil until cooked through and al dente but not mushy, 20 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, pickle the onion: In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey and salt. Add the onion and toss to combine, lightly pressing to submerge if needed.
Once the farro is al dente, drain it in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse with cold water to cool it. Add the drained farro to the bowl with the pickled onions and toss to combine.
To char the corn, heat a large, dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes. Add the corn and cook, rotating every few minutes, until charred in spots and bright yellow, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer the corn to a cutting board to cool. Working with one ear at a time, cut the corn in half crosswise, then stand each half cut side down on the board and use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cob. Repeat with the remaining corn.
To assemble the salad, add the queso fresco, almonds, mint and charred corn, and toss to combine. Season with generous amounts of black pepper, taste, and add more salt or vinegar, if needed. Serve at room temperature or cover and transfer to the refrigerator to chill and eat cold.
Adapted from "Cook This Book" by Molly Baz (Clarkson Potter, 2021).
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